• Whitney E. Laemmli

    Historian of science and technology.

  • I am a historian of science and technology and an assistant professor in the Department of History at Carnegie Mellon University. My research focuses on the interactions between technology, science, the body, and social, cultural, and political life in the twentieth century. Prior to joining Carnegie Mellon, I was a member of Columbia University's Society of Fellows in the Humanities (2016-2019) and received my PhD from the Department of History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania.

     

    I teach courses on the cultural history of science and technology, and I have particular interests in the histories of information and media, the body, and technology, work, and capitalism.

  • Research Program

    Within the broad frame of the history of science and technology, my research pays particular attention to the body, information and media, disability, and the interactions between technical practice and artistic endeavor.

     

    My current book manuscript, Measured Movements, explores how a tool developed to record dance on paper in Weimar Germany found new life in the corporate boardrooms, robotics laboratories, and psychiatric hospitals of the mid-century United States and United Kingdom. Other projects have investigated the material history of the ballet pointe shoe, the sexual rehabilitation of paraplegic WWII veterans, and the relationship between modern technology and religion.

     

     

     

    Measured Movements: The Human Body and the Choreography of Modern Life

    My current book manuscript, Measured Movements: The Human Body and the Choreography of Modern Life, illuminates how a technology designed to record movement became a tool for managing social, cultural, and political life in the United States and United Kingdom after World War II. Developed by the German choreographer (and future Nazi Minister of Dance) Rudolf Laban in the 1920s, “Labanotation” employed a complicated “scientific” symbology to capture bodily movement on paper. Each chapter of the book explores a new episode in Labanotation’s movement from Nazi Germany to the factories, hospitals, and corporate boardrooms of Britain and the United States. There, it was used to provide spiritual salve for exhausted assembly line workers, to identify and treat war veterans and Holocaust survivors, to screen white-collar job applicants, and by folklorist Alan Lomax to assuage Americans’ unease about a multicultural world. Labanotation’s surprising appeal, I argue, derived from the twin promises it made to its users. First, that movement could provide individuals with a source of emotional solace, personal expression, and spiritual redemption. And, second, that this expressive potential would never go too far: movement would be continually monitored, broken down into its constituent parts, and put in the service of modern states, institutions, and bureaucracies. In creating a notation system ostensibly capable of turning any movement into easily analyzable data, Laban’s work not only served to preserve a fading past, but seemed to open up new possibilities for the literal choreographing of modern life.

     

     

     

     

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